If you read this blog—or any other food blog or recipe service, for that matter—then you’ve seen the ingredient ‘x cloves garlic, minced’ plenty of times. You might know what it means, but you might also have spent a little too much money for a small jhar of ‘minced garlic’ from the grocery store.
I’m going to start posting do-it-yourself information, from time to time, that will hopefully help everyone from the most experienced garlic mincer to the poor dude who just smashes the clove with the broad side of something and throws it in, paper and all. Topics will include everything from buying/prepping certain produce or other food items, to knife skills (yay julienning!), to other handy kitchen skills that you might be too intimidated to try.
It’s fun, and I promise that it will become easier with practice! You’ll be eating a meal made completely of items from your backyard in no time.
On to garlic…
Garlic is a member of the Alliaceae family, which also includes onion, chives, and leeks. Sometimes I’ll refer to them together in recipes, saying something like ‘taking care not to burn the allia,’ and isn’t that easier?
Garlic has a long history in the world, replete with everything from methods for preventing garlic breath to religious uses. Garlic is antibacterial and also kills yeast, which makes it a perfect home remedy for those suffering from either yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (which are essentially opposing imbalances of the delicate environment of the vagina, and incorrectly treating for one with traditional pharmaceuticals can make the imbalance much worse). I’ll let someone else explain and cite studies showing how that works, though.
The garlic scapes, which are delicate green shoots growing from the top of the bulb, are removed early in the bulb’s growth so that all energy can focus on that area. Scapes impart a more delicate garlic flavour and are used in some recipes.
Fun fact: there’s also a phobia (irrational fear) of garlic called alliumphobia.
Buying and Storing
When buying garlic, look for a tight, white bulb with unbroken skin—free from scratches or bruises. This is more than cosmetic—breaks in the skin can have negative effects on the garlic, and you could end up with mushy brown cloves that are unusable.
Garlic should be stored warm to prevent it from sprouting, which occurs when little green shoots grow up from the cloves. If this happens and is caught early enough, then you can just pick the shoots out of the cloves when preparing. Storing garlic in a bowl or other ceramic container on the counter or shelves around the kitchen is fine. We store our garlic with a few onions, ginger, lines, hot peppers, and other small items that we’re going to use within a few days in a big black bowl on the counter.
Mincing Garlic (and other preparations)
A note before beginning: garlic is an anticoagulant, which means that when you inevitably slice yourself with garlic all over your fingers and knife, it’s going to bleed forever. Don’t worry about this! Just rise with cold water, wrap in a towel, apply pressure, and hold the cut above your heart for a while. If you’re klutzy and impatient like I am, then you’ll eventually teach yourself to mince garlic with one hand.
To prepare garlic, peel off the paper from the bulb and pull out a few cloves. The cloves on the outside are larger than the cloves at the middle of the bulb, so when recipes call for ‘4 cloves of garlic,’ you should do your best to estimate around the average size of a clove—or screw the recipe altogether and add as much garlic as you damn well please!
Once you’ve got the cloves separated, gently smash them with the broad side of a knife or other large, flat surface to break the outside skin a little bit—this will make it much easier to peel the paper off.
Don’t worry if you smash the garlic itself a little bit in the process—you’re going to be doing that later anyways. Don’t smash it too much, however, or it will turn to mush that the paper will get all mixed in with the garlicky bits, defeating the purpose of making it easier to pell the paper off.
Find the breaks in the garlic skin and peel all the paper off. Now it’s time to smash the garlic!
But first! Some recipes call for sliced garlic. If this is the case, then simply run your knife through each clove to produce slices of your desired thickness. Don’t smash the garlic if your recipe calls for sliced garlic! (Actually, it’s okay to smash if the recipe calls for sliced garlic because it’s going to be popped into the food processor—otherwise, yeah, slice.)
For smashing, you’re going to need a nice, big chef’s knife. I use a Wüsthof Classic 20 cm (8″) Cook’s Knife. (If you’re purchasing a knife, then make sure that, when placed diagonally on your most used cutting board, there are 2″ on either side of the knife. That means that if the diagonal of your board is 15″, then buy no larger than a 13″ knife.) I like the smaller size because I have smaller hands, and I’m already klutzy enough without a giant pokey knife threatening to hurt myself or those around me in the kitchen.
Near the end of the cutting board (so that the handle of the knife doesn’t prevent the knife from flattening completely against the board), line up the garlic cloves from largest to smallest right next to each other on the cutting board, or line in two or more groups depending on how many cloves you’re smashing.
With your fist, pound the back of the knife so that the cloves are smashed as much as possible. If a recipe calls for ‘smashed’ garlic, then you can stop here!
Next, gather the smashed cloves into a pile and run your knife through them.
Repeat this 3-4 times until your garlic pieces are uniformly tiny. If your recipe calls for diced garlic, then you can stop here!
To mince, gather the garlic into a pile.
Sprinkle some kosher salt only to the pile—this will help your knife grip the garlic when mincing. (Remember to reduce the salt in your recipe a little when adding later to account for the salt used here.)
Then, using the blade side of your knife, rock the knife against the garlic to produce a fine overall mince—you may need to gather the pile 2-3 times in order to achieve this. The final produce will be paste-like.
I’ve made a video so that you can see what the rocking motion looks like!
You may wish to finish up by targeting any larger chunks with the tip of the knife. After that, gather the minced garlic into a pile. You can scoop this pile up with the knife and plop into your recipe whenever it’s called for!
Now that you know how to mince garlic, what are you waiting for? Go make a nice red sauce, or a soup or a stew. Or some garlic ice cream!